DECEMBER 1, 2020 — Meet Carla Burgos, a UTSA graduate student in Art History and student employee of UTSA Libraries Special Collections where she has worked for almost two years transcribing manuscripts from the Mexican Cookbook Collection—the largest in the nation.
Carla grew up in Texas after moving from Santiago, Chile, in 1986 and holds two bachelor’s degrees—one in Art History and one in Communication Design. Carla lost her hearing at 18 months of age but has not let it get in the way of her goals both as a student and as a researcher.
“I like to visit the past through the eyes of the people that lived through that time and through those who wrote about it,” she said.
She is fluent in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language.
What are some of the challenging aspects of transcribing cookbooks?
You have to realize that these cookbooks are from the 18th and 19th century so the syntax and the grammar are a bit different. The writing itself is just different, so it may take me three or four pages that I have to get into and really read before I can start to transcribe. I have to fully understand the text before I start the process.
Do you have a favorite book or recipe in the collection?
There are a lot of recipes I like! One in particular is the arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) recipe by Hortensia Volante. She describes exactly how to make it. It’s really great.
What advice do you have for those who want to try some of the recipes from the collection at home?
I would tell them to adjust the recipes a little. There’s one recipe in particular that asks for five pounds of sugar, five pounds of butter and 50 eggs. I imagine back then they fed large families. Today, we don’t cook for that many people, so adjusting the recipe is helpful and may even make them a little healthier.
What is something unique about your job that people may not know?
When I transcribe, I get insight into the author’s life. It’s a glance at a day in their life, their personalities and the time period in which they lived. It’s so interesting, unique and insightful.
Why is it important to collect Mexican cookbooks? What does it mean for students and the community?
I would say it’s important because these recipes in the cookbooks have been passed down from generation to generation for over 500 years. It helps us to preserve our history and learn about families back then. Family wealth and status often determined the kind of ingredients used in the recipes. For example, one recipe requires saffron, and back then saffron was a very unique, expensive spice from Europe. Not every person could afford that, and people would trade a lot. It paints a picture of what life and culture was like back then. It’s interesting to learn that as you go through the books.
What are your plans after graduation?
I am hoping to work either in archives or conservation when I graduate.
About the Mexican Cookbook Collection
UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook Collection includes over 2,000 titles in English and Spanish documenting the variety and history of Mexican cuisine from 1789 to the present, with most books dating from 1940-2000. In addition to broad general coverage, the collection includes concentrations in the areas of regional cooking, healthy and vegetarian recipes, corporate advertising cookbooks, and manuscript recipe books.
Make a gift: Digitizing Culinary History
Please consider making a gift to the UTSA Libraries to help further digitization and transcription efforts of the Mexican Cookbook Collection. As staff and student employees work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UTSA Libraries Special Collections is hoping to make access to the collection more available for anyone with an internet connection. Read more about these efforts and the impact your gift can provide.